In Sweet Jubilation!

There are lots of Christmas carols about angels, but not too many claim to have been received from angels. We Mormons with our own roster of angelic ministrants (led by Moroni) are perhaps more open than most moderns to such a claim.

The story goes that one night in 1328 the German Dominican mystic Heinrich Seuse [Henry Suso] (1300-1366) not only contacted the angels but danced with them and sang a song with them:

Now this same angel came up to the Servant [Suso] brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus, which runs thus: ‘In dulci jubilo’, etc.1

Suso recorded the words and tune of this angelic carol in macaronic style, interweaving Latin with vernacular German:

Original Text:

In dulci jubilo,
Nun singet und seid froh!
Alle unsre Wonne
Liegt in praesepio;
Sie leuchtet wie die Sonne
Matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O
!

English Translation:

In sweet rejoicing,
now sing and be glad!
All our joy
lies in the manger;
It shines like the sun
in the mother’s lap.
You are the alpha and omega!

Various English versions, some translating only the German lyrics and others rendering all of the lyrics into English, have since been created, and this song also resulted in the hybridized Good Christian Men, Rejoice!

So the next time you sing this Christmas Carol, recall that it was received by revelation from the angels themselves, and that a young prophet danced with the angels as he learned this song he would later share with all the world, a song we still enjoy to this day six centuries later.

1. A fuller excerpt from Suso’s biography can be found in the notes of Keyte and Parrott, The New Oxford Book of Carols. See also Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols (London: Penguin, 1999). Suso was deeply into various bodily mortifications and over a 25-year period never took a bath(!)

Comments

  1. Listening to Chicago NPR? :) (They just talked about this.)

  2. One of my all-time favorite Christmas carols. Glad to know a little more about it. Thanks!

    About the translation of the word “dulci,” would you ever translate it as “quiet”, as in “In Quiet Joy”? I’ve seen it this way several times and always wondered.

  3. I love In Dulci Jubilo–I believe it was received from Angels!

  4. Fascinating. I love it.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    No, I didn’t hear it on NPR, but I’m glad to know I’m in tune with the NPR spirit!

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Although the basic meaning of dulcis is “sweet,” it can also have connotations of agreeable, delightful, pleasant, charming, soft, flattering.

  7. Bam! Neat post.

  8. Kevin,

    Arcanus es et obfuscatus.

  9. We just rehearsed Good Christian Men, Rejoice with the ward choir my father-in-law conducts. This is great stuff. Thanks, Kevin.

  10. Earlier today I requested an “In dulci jubilo” station on pandora.com. It has been a lovely afternoon of gorgeous choir Christmas music. Mostly in Latin. Splendid.

  11. There’s a wonderful piece by John Rutter called ‘Brother Heinrich’s Christmas’ — as in Heinrich Sueso. It tells this ‘In dulci jubilo’ story in the most wonderfully charming and musically clever way. When Heinrich can’t remember the last phrase of the angel’s song, a music-loving donkey comes to the rescue in an unexpected way.

    It used to be part of an album of Rutter carols called Hurry to Bethlehem (now out of print). These days it’s available on a CD called Three Musical Fables. Highly recommended!

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    gillsyk, I’d never heard of that; it sounds wonderful! (I like Rutter anyway.)

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Kristine, I finally had a chance to watch your youtube links. Angels, indeed! Thanks for the links.

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